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Introduction of the permanent diaconate in Poland in 2001

Beginnings

Even though the history of the permanent diaconate in Poland only goes back to the year 2001, we would like to begin with the year 1962. In that year, an interesting article was published by Prof. Marian Rechowicz, in which he expresses his opinion on the necessity of the introduction of the permanent diaconate in Poland. It is probably the first Polish scientific article on the topic of the “Permanent Diaconate” After a careful consideration; Prof. Rechowicz did not see any necessity for this grade of the hierarchy to be introduced, in its permanent form, in the Polish Church of the time. Interestingly, he considers the introduction of the diaconal ordination for women possible for a certain category of women – namely, for religious sisters.

For a long time, the permanent diaconate was not even discussed in the Polish Church. It was only the Second Polish Synod – which ended on the 11th of June 1999 – that addressed this matter. Point 40 of Part X of the Synod Documents opened the way for the introduction of the permanent diaconate in Poland. As a result, on the 20th of June 2001, the 313th Plenary Session of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, held on that occasion in Łowicz, decided on the introduction of the permanent diaconate in Poland. 70 bishops were in favour, 10 were against and 7 abstained. Bishop Andrzej Suski from Toruń was chosen as the Bishops’ Conference’s delegate for this topic.
The next step, after many months of preparatory work, was the 324th Plenary Session of the Polish Bishops’ Conference which took place, in Warsaw on the 21st and 22nd of October 2003. The 22nd of October saw the adoption of the document called Guidelines for the Formation, Life and Ministry of the Permanent Deacons in Poland [for the Latin Rite (Wytyczne dotyczące formacji, życia i posługi diakonów stałych w Polsce [dla obrządku łacińskiego]), which was then approved ad experimentum, for a period of six years, starting on the 22nd of January 2004, by the Congregation for Catholic Education, under the signature of Cardinal Grocholewski. On the 7th of April 2005, the Polish Bishops’ Conference adopted the formation program for both married and celibate candidates. Three months before that, on the Feast of the Epiphany (6th of January) 2005, the Bishop of Toruń, Andrzej Suski had issued a decree on the introduction on the permanent diaconate in the Diocese of Toruń (diecezja toruńska). He also founded a formation centre for permanent deacons in the village of Przysiek near Toruń. At the very beginning, ten candidates registered, with four completing the course. As of June 1st 2008, the centre has been inactive.

On the 28th of May 2008, the Archdiocese of Warmia (archidiecezja warmińska) (Archbishop Edmund Piszcz) introduced the permanent diaconate and, just a few days later, on the 6th of June, Tomasz Chmielewski from the Diocese of Toruń, was ordained as the first Latin Rite permanent deacon in Poland. The first permanent deacon in Poland in general was Andrzej Chita. He was ordained (in the Byzantine Rite) on the 17th of March, 1993 as a diaconus ad sacerdotium non destinatus. Diaconal ordinations in the Byzantine Rite also took place in Poland in the years 2000, 2003, 2010 and 2017.
Diocesan centres for the formation of permanent deacons exist in Drohiczyn in Podlasia, Warsaw, Opole in Upper Silesia, Katowice in Upper Silesia, Szczecin, Ełk in Masuria, Elbląg (for the dioceses of Elbląg and Warmia) in the region of Warmia. The dioceses of Świdnica and Łódź have been reflecting, in recent times, on the possible introduction of the permanent diaconate.
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The following are the Polish dioceses in which the permanent diaconate was introduced:

Diocese First Ordination Number of Permanent Deacons
Metropolis of Gdańsk (Metropolia Gdańska)
Diocese of Pelplin (diecezja pelplińska) 8.06.2008 1
Diocese of Toruń (diecezja toruńska) 6.06.2008 3
Metropolis of Katowice (Metropolia Katowicka)
Archdiocese of Katowice (archidiecezja katowicka) 24.10.2013 5
Diocese of Gleiwice (diecezja gliwicka) 7.11.2015 2
Diocese of Opole (diecezja opolska) 30.06.2013 7
Metropolis of Sczeczin-Kamień (Metropolia Szczecińsko-Kamieńska)
Archdiocese Sczeczin-Kamień (archidiecezja szczecińsko-kamieńska) 18.06.2016 4
Metropolis of Warmia (Metropolia Warmińska)
Diocese of Ełk (diecezja ełcka) 20.12.2009 5
Metropolis of Warsaw (Metropolia Warszawska)
Archdiocese of Warsaw (archidiecezja warszawska) 9.08.2009 4

In Poland today, there are a total of 34 Latin Rite permanent deacons, out which 5 are celibate (3 religious, all of them are serving outside Poland, which is why they were not included in the table above; the two other celibate deacons live in Poland) and 6 Byzantine Rite permanent deacons (out of which 1 is celibate and also a monk).

Challenges

The following challenges are facing the permanent diaconate in Poland:

  • Deacons are regarded as replacement priests (it should be said, however, that the diaconate was reintroduce during a period in which there was no priest shortage in Poland, as a direct consequence of Lumen Gentium 29).
  • Insufficient knowledge to introduce the diaconate in the dioceses (the specifics of this ecclesiastic office and its specific tasks are not taken into account, and one finds it difficult to regard the diaconate as a vocation in itself).
  • The way that permanent deacons in Poland understand themselves (given that the diaconate is still in the development stage, one cannot be sure in which direction the self-understanding of the permanent deacons will develop.
  • The acceptance of permanent deacons by the priests, the faithful, most of all by the seminarians and transitional deacons.
  • The issue of the role of permanent deacons in ministry.
  • Reproaches along the lines of: “why does he need an ordination? He is already very committed in the Church.”
  • The mandatory character of a Master’s Degree in Theology for all diaconate candidates. The problem of the vestments and the title which should be assigned to deacons, a problem which the dioceses solve differently. The two questions in this regard would be: may the deacon wear a cassock or a clerical collar? May and should one address him as “ksiądz”? (“ksiądz” in Polish, is a form of addressing a clergyman, which is also used when speaking to a seminarian or a transitional deacon; however, many, especially among the clergy, have difficulties addressing a married deacon in this way. The word “ksiądz” doesn’t have a correspondent in English, it could possibly correspond to the Italian “Don”)
  • Shortcomings in formation (how should one, for instance, connect the roles of husband/father and of deacon?).

Opportunities

The current situation in the Polish Church would seem to indicate that the number of deacons will not increase rapidly but will still do so systematically.
With the vocation of the husband to the diaconate, one has the possibility to discover the wife’s role in his ministry, which can also lead to the discovery of new dimensions of the women’s service in the Church in general. At the same time, the possibility is opened for permanent (acolyte) and not just extraordinary ministries (communion ministers) to be assigned to laypeople in the Polish Church.
The Polish Church does not yet have any ready-made scenarios for the permanent diaconate (to date there are only the nationwide guidelines; the Diocese of Opole is the only one which set forth Guidelines for the Formation and Ministry of a Permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Opole). Therefore, the permanent diaconate in the Polish Church is very flexible and can develop in diverse ways at various levels.
Thanks to the permanent diaconate, one can rediscover the Church’s diakonia, this also offers the possibility to strengthen, by means of a sacramental grace, the numerous men who are committed, body and soul to the Church.

Goals

  • The development of the identity and the role of the permanent diaconate in Church, family and society.
  • The continued laying of ground for the development of the permanent diaconate in Poland.
  • A systematic, un-hasty work for the development of the idea of the permanent diaconate, for the ministry of deacons in the Church, for a positive image of the deacons in their environment, as well as in the consciousness of the clergymen and the lay faithful alike. .
  • The development of the permanent formation of the deacons (by means of retreats in summer and regular days of reflection) and of their families. There is a magazine with nationwide circulation called Diakon, published every two years. In some dioceses, there are no spiritual companions for permanent deacons and also the continued formation for deacons and their families is lacking.

Bibliography

Białkowski, Michał, Głos w przedsoborowej dyskusji o diakonacie stałym. Ks. rektor prof. Marian Rechowicz i jego opracowanie z 1961 r. [in:] Mateja, Erwin (Ed.), Liturgia Sacra 24 (2), Redakcja Wydawnictw Wydziału Teologicznego Uniwersytetu Opolskiego, Opole, 2018, p. 375-402.
Czaja, Andrzej, Regulamin formacji i posługi diakona stałego w diecezji opolskiej, Kuria diecezjalna w Opolu, Opole, 2017
Marczewski, Marek (Ed.), Diakonat stały. Historia – Teologia – Duchowość, Drukarnia Krys Krzysztof Przybylski, Lublin, 2019.
Rozynkowski, Waldemar, Historia diakonatu stałego w Kościele w Polsce [in:] Karasiński, Waldemar (Ed.), Ateneum kapłańskie 172, issue I (659), Włocławskie Wydawnictwo Diecezjalne, Włocławek, 2019, p. 5-19.
Rozynkowski, Waldemar (Ed.), Diakonat stały w Kościele w Polsce. Historia – Teologia – Wyzwania, Wydawnictwo „Bernardinum“, Pelplin, 2019.
Sobeczko, Helmut Jan, Tytuł grzecznościowy „Ksiądz“ i strój duchowny stałych diakonów w Polsce [in:] Mateja, Erwin (Ed.), Diakon 12-13, Redakcja Wydawnictw Wydziału Teologicznego Uniwersytetu Opolskiego, Opole, 2016, p. 37-44.

Deacon Marek Dziony


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